Author's Note: The story that started it all, I guess - and something I've been meaning to tweak for a while. If you've read it already, thanks! I haven't changed much. If it's new to you, well, I hope you enjoy it.
Like most lengthy arguments, they'd forgotten its origin after a sufficient amount of yelling, but that didn't make either of them anymore willing to admit defeat.
"You take that back," Mabel warned her brother, finger pointed at his nose. "You take-"
"No!" he yelled. "They make you sweaty in the summer! The whole attic smells weird because of you! Why do you knit the stupid things out of wool?!"
His words were like a spear to the heart, but adrenaline and anger kept her going. "Because it's durable and I like washing it, buttface!"
Dipper threw his hands up to the sky. "Are you serious?! Half the time the bathroom sink is full of sweaters and the other half it's clogged with their friggin' lint!"
"I can't throw 'em in the washing machine, Dipstick! They'll lose their shape!"
"Don't call me Dipstick!"
"Don't insult my style, then!"
His eyes narrowed so much a part of her wondered how he could even see. "I said it before, and I'll say it again: I hate your sweaters."
Forget the spear; Mabel felt like she'd just been shot. Hand over her heart and panting with rage, she fired back with the first verbal weapon that popped into her brain. It turned out to be a nuclear bomb. "Oh yeah?! Well I hate you! I wish you'd never been born, you, you... you... poophead!"
Not only did her statement kill the fight, it seemed to kill every sound in the gift shop. Dipper stood there, arms at his side, looking equal measures of helpless and stunned and angry all at once. Endless seconds passed before he remembered how to speak. "Oh. Is that how it is. Well. Fine." Without another word, he walked out of the gift shop. It would have been better – or at least easier for her to handle – if he slammed the door behind him, but he didn't. To make up for that, Mabel stormed up the stairs and kicked their bedroom door closed. Face shining strawberry red, she fell onto her bed and tried to stop the anger from stealing her breath. It took a while.
"How could he say that to me?!" she growled to herself, perched in the center of her mattress and hugging her knees. "He... he knows better!" She peered down at the wool hugging her body – blue, with white stars, one of her favorites – and began to sniffle. "Forget his butt! He went way too far." Her face twisted at the weakness of her phrasing, but the emotion behind it lacked for nothing. She pulled the sweater off and flung it aside before lying back and glaring into space. "Ugh!" She meant to cool off figuratively, but it was too hot literally for her to manage. The heat sapped her strength, then her focus, and soon Mabel gave herself to the black abyss of sleep.
That darkness left almost as quick as it came. When her eyes opened the afternoon sun filled them up. "Dang. What time is it?" A few sighs and pats of her messy hair later, she found the power to get out of bed. Her nerves were still raw from the argument, but enough of the edge was gone for guilt to settle in. Almost automatically, she reached for her sweater. Something stopped her. "Wait. Nah. Might get him going again. I'll leave it." She folded it and laid it gingerly on her bed, frowning. "Too hot anyway, I guess." Once her shoes were on, the hunt for Dipper began. It eventually lead her into the gift shop.
Wendy was behind the register, doing everything but her job, as usual. "Hey, short stuff! You feelin' all right? Something's missing," she noted, setting her magazine on the counter.
Mabel rubbed at her bare arms and stared at the floorboards. Despite the immense suffering her sweaters brought her this time of year, not wearing one felt weird. So weird, it made her squirm. "It's... it's too hot," she lied. "You seen that buttface I'm related to? I wanna kick him in the shins."
Wendy chuckled under her breath, but her eyes were sympathetic. "Pff. He went for a walk. I didn't think you guys could get that mad at each other."
Mabel looked out the open door and grumbled. "Ugh, I shoulda known. He always goes for a walk when we fight." Despite a burgeoning sense of worry, her mind continued to produce adorable obscenities as she thought of him. In a minute more of thinking, however, she realized the strength of her final insult and wanted desperately to apologize. "I'ma go wait for him," she advised, wandering onto the side porch and taking a seat on the top step. Left alone with the silence, she began to stew once more. "Okay, I shouldn't have said that, but I love my sweaters. I never make fun of his stupid hat!" A gust of wind arrived, forcing the trees to dance with a lengthy, potent rustling. She only sighed at the sound. Not long after, the lighting changed – a dangerous wall of angry gray clouds had devoured the sun. Worry was now equal with the other emotions thrashing around in her heart. "Oh, snap. That looks pretty bad. Maybe I should go fi-" As she stood, anger won and changed her mind. "No! He deserves to get rained on!" she decided, sitting back down with a huff. "Ouch! I gotta remember I don't have any cushion down there."
Minutes crawled by as the thunderstorm grew in size and scope. It swallowed the whole of the western horizon as she watched, becoming a dark gray behemoth that hung in the sky and drifted closer. The wind changed from a punchy breeze to something that bent the woods to and fro with frightening power. Worry was now completely victorious; she hopped up and bounced from foot to foot under its weight. "Uh, Dip? The heck? Where are you, man?" she asked, glancing around anxiously and hugging herself. "Come on! Hurry up! You can't be mad forever!" As her last words died, the rain came to life, pounding the tin roof above and filling her ears with a metallic rattle. "Then again, I crossed a pretty line-y line... oh man."
Wendy emerged onto the porch, shutting the door behind her with a squeak. "I think it's raining," she joked, delivering a firm kick to the side of the old vending machine. Almost begrudgingly, it dropped a can of Pitt into the slot. "Heh, still works." Before she could pop the top, a pink streak of lightning shot overhead. Mabel screamed in concert with the thunder, but the sheer power of the sound consumed her voice and left her unable to hear herself. Wendy crouched a little, one hand on her furry cap and cringing until the thunder finally faded away. "U-uh, I think nature's trying to tell us something, man," she finally stammered, making no attempt to hide her fear. "We should probably ride this one out inside."
"Nope!" As with the storm, her anxiety blossomed into something stronger. She stood like a sentinel on the top step, ignoring the blowing rain and the bitter chill it brought. "I'm gonna make sure he comes back. You know. It's... the sisterly thing to do." Other words were meant to be attached to that sentence, but they caught in her throat and emerged as a sad, clipped murmur.
Wendy nodded. "I gotcha, man. I'll stay too."
The rain became ice as the storm continued to gain power overhead. Hailstones of various caliber slashed at her bare arms, but Mabel refused to yield. Only when the hail grew too heavy for the wind to carry did her will start to bend; their impact created noises unlike any she'd heard before, spine-chilling sounds that gave her serious pause about being out here any longer. Branches of trees cracked, but their sound was lost in a growling symphony of sharp, echoing rattles. Summer became a twisted shadow of winter as ice accumulated on the lawn. At first, it was penny-sized. Then it became quarters. Then it became half-dollars. And it kept on growing. So much lightning raced through the sky, it left them in a state of half-blindness.
Wendy reached her limit and grabbed Mabel's arm. "Come on! We're gonna get smoked out here!" she yelled, hardly able to shout down the tempest.
Mabel couldn't fight her strength. She wiggled and thrashed like a fish as the redhead tugged her back into the gift shop. "Dang it!" she yelled, watching as she stared out the nearest window. "He might be in trouble! I gotta find him!"
"I'm sure he's fine. You know him. Probably just waiting it out in town." A large clump of ice bounced off the pane. Startled, she backed away with her arms raised. "Holy cow. We'd better find a closet to hide in."
There was no time for her own safety. Mabel was gone in a flash, halfway up the stairs before Wendy even knew it. She zoomed into the bedroom, snatched her sweater off the bed and pulled it on. In the back of her mind, she knew it wouldn't be any use against the pounding hail – yet its embrace still felt like a suit of armor, and that was enough to spur her back down and toward the entryway door. Just as she barreled through it, a hand from behind latched onto her shoulder and stopped her.
"Let me go!" she screeched, tearing at Wendy's fingers. "I gotta help him! I gotta... I gotta say I'm sorry!"
"Relax, shorty," the redhead said, her tone incredibly gentle. She shut the open door and tugged the unhappy Mabel back into the living room, then made her sit on the dingy recliner. "I know you're worried, but if I let you get killed Mister Pines is probably gonna be mad."
"And what if that kills my brother?!" Mabel shot back, pointing an unhappy finger at the sounds coming from above. "What if he's hurt? What if he's..." The image was too much to bear. Hand over her aching heart, she fought against the gathering tears. "I'm scared."
"I know, I know." Wendy sat beside her, rubbing her back. "I promise we'll go looking for him just as soon as this is over." The lights flickered a few times before giving up and plunging the girls into darkness. "...and I remember where the flashlights are."
"I'll get 'em," Mabel groaned, happy to have something to distract her. She walked up the stairs, rubbing at the wounds hiding under her sleeves and hissing. "Stupid hail. You're just snow that got kicked out of snow college." After reaching the attic again, she walked over to Dipper's side and started rummaging under his bed. Lightning constantly filled the room with pinkish flashes. One of these lit up the journal, laying on the floor near her hands. The gold palm glittered for an instant. It made her think of of him – and that made her chest get tighter. Feeling lightheaded, she fell back onto her rear and stared up at the window.
"Please be okay," she said, almost addressing the glass itself. This was the sort of anxiety she'd work out with Dipper. His absence turned it into an unbearable, burning agony. "I hate being apart, even with my permission. Where is he? Is he okay?" The window had no answers, although a hailstone tried to come in through the hole their attic golf game had punched in the glass. "I called him a million times a day when he went on that field trip. Made him so mad! But he..."
Thunder slammed the house, shaking the structure to its supports. She trembled – not because of the noise, but because it seemed to signal just how far away the storm was from giving up. Panic took over, forcing her to her feet. "I told him I wished he'd never been born! I can't let that be the last thing he ever hears!" she growled. Another blast of thunder struck, reshaping her anger into teary-eyed bargaining. "What do you want from me?!" Desperate, she looked around for something to lay on the metaphorical altar. Her eyes passed over the sleeves of her sweater once, twice, thrice before finally coming to rest. "Oh... he hates these things. Maybe if I give them up..."
Her brain split in two. One half shrieked at her to make the sacrifice – Dipper was worth all the garments in the universe. The other railed against it – this wool was her precious shield, and not just in a physical, hail-defying sense. The former won. Doffing the blue sweater was like peeling skin; dried blood from the wounds on her arms stuck to the threads, making her grimace with pain. "If this is what it takes," she proclaimed, holding it up to the panes, "Then take 'em. I'll deal. Just give me my brother back."
A fearsome roll of thunder denied her request.
Tears clung to the corners of her eyes. "What?! These are fuzzy little bits of my soul! Aren't they good enough? Take them! Give me Dipper!" Her voice grew louder with every bolt of lightning. "Take them! Dang it! Give him here! I have to say I'm sorry! I have to! I have to!"
She heard the door open behind her, the approaching footsteps, Wendy calling her name. Those words were distant, as if she were yelling down the length of a tunnel. Hands landed on her shoulders, but no amount of shaking could extract Mabel from the snowball of panic that was sweeping her away. Thought was gone. Only a terrified stream of consciousness remained. "Take these freakin' things! I hate them! I hate them!" she shrieked again. A bolt came so close to the house that its light washed out her vision. There was only enough strength inside for one more plea, screamed so loudly her vocal cords felt ready to snap.
"Please leave him! Take meeeeeeee!"
Hands parted the fog of terror. Since these were on her shoulders, Mabel just assumed they were Wendy's and kept on screaming for her brother's return. Once she'd shut up – which was only to gasp for air – she realized the voice didn't match.
"Mabel!" Dipper begged, jostling her gently. "Mabel! Wake up! You're scaring the heck out of me! Mabel!"
Even after recognizing who it was, she needed a moment to get her bearings. As before, she found herself in the bedroom, but the storm was missing. In its place was pale gray light and gentle rain, tapping occasionally on the window. In fact, the reading light Dipper used, laying on his bed, was almost as bright. Finally, her racing heart began to settle. She struggled to sit up, drying the cold sweat from her forehead with a trembling hand. He let her go and gave her space, his eyes gleaming with worry.
"You're... You're alive!" she finally blurted out in his direction, so overwhelmed with relief that she didn't know what else to say or do. They stared at each other for ages.
"Well, yeah. Why wouldn't I be?" he asked at length, trying to figure out what awful dream had seized his sister. "It started raining, so I came back. You were asleep when I got up here. I know how grumpy you are when somebody wakes you up. I, uh, I didn't want us to start fighting again, so I let you sleep." His face got awkward. He tried to hide it by fussing with his hat. "Then you started whining, and talking, and there were sweaters, and you yelled about me, and something leaving some guy and taking you? I dunno."
Mabel replayed the nightmare in her head. It was still like a brick to the gut, but Dipper's presence stole most of its power. "I had—I had the worst nightmare, bro."
"About me and sweaters?" he asked, trying to be as serious with his inflection as possible. "I mean, it makes sense in a weird sort of way, but..." Bitter unhappiness in her eyes silenced him for a moment. "You know what? Let's just talk it out," he offered, sitting on the edge of her bed.
"I was lookin' for you. All over. I went back to the gift shop and Wendy said you'd gone for a walk. I waited for you outside but there was a storm and hail and stormy stormy stormy and Iiiii kinda lost it..." she concluded breathlessly. "I didn't know what had happened, but I knew you were gone. I thought if I gave up the thing you hated you'd come back to me."
"Whoa, Wendy told you what happened, didn't she? I went for a walk." Dipper's face became blank as realization struck. "Wait. Does gone mean dead? You thought I had died?"
Mabel nodded weakly, still struggling to cast off the pain of her dream. "Y-yeah, bro. It didn't want my sweaters, so I asked it to take me instead. Then you woke me up."
Dipper was no less resistant to the concept of his demise. He needed a few deep breaths to steady himself. "Wow. I—I don't know what to say." That was a lie, of course; he knew exactly what needed to be said. He cleared his throat a bit. "Why did sweaters set you off, Mabel? They're just clothes."
His generalization hurt, but she was in no mood for another fight. It felt like her stomach was full of peach pits. "You don't understand, man. They're not just clothes," she replied weakly, fighting against a swell of emotion both the fight and her dream had brought to the fore.
"Has Pacifica gotten to you or something?" he asked, folding his arms. "You're a lot more than your – uh, very, very bright outfits."
"I know I am! And I know you know I am! But some people just don't! When I'm not in one, they just think I'm a dorky girl with braces that whistle and a lisp. When I've got one on, I'm Mabel, broface. They see my threads and think I'm awesome before they even talk to me!" She doubled over and sighed, hiding her face with her knees. "They're like my protection, bro. They keep people from running away. Do you realize how much that junk hurts?"
"Oh. Oh, man," Dipper sighed, standing up and rubbing the back of his neck. "Geez. Don't I feel like a jerk." He only got a few steps away before turning to face her with a deeply apologetic expression. "This is definitely my bad. I'm sorry. I didn't know."
She presented a sad, uneasy grin. "Like I said, I don't tell you everything. Why do you think I have them on even if it's a zillion degrees outside? School was a nightmare until I added some color to my life. Now I'm weird and more fun to look at."
He chuckled a little. "You've got a point there. Okay. From now on, sweaters are off-limits." He came back and sat down on her bed. "Still, though, that hurt. I never thought I'd hear you say you hated me so much."
"Broseph, I am the most totally sorriest ever," she said, latching onto him in a painfully tight hug. "You're a way bigger part of me than my sweaters. If you weren't..." She couldn't handle attacking the image directly, and so decided to take the scenic route. "Do you remember that catchy as heck song? Something about paradise and parking lots?"
Dipper rolled his eyes in thought. His face suddenly lit up. "Oh yeah! They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." He tapped his foot in rhythm with the beat which was now lodged in his head. "Agh, earworm. Gonna hear it all day. What about it?"
"...'You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone'." Her chest began to hurt again. "I think there's blood in my sadness-stream, yo. I feel way depressed."
"Mabel..." He rubbed her back gently. "Look, we're going to fight, but I'd never just leave you hanging." She sniffled for a few moments. "No, no, it's okay. I'm here. You will never, ever get rid of me now. I'll haunt you. You watch me."
She giggled, but something was genuinely different about this particular embrace. It was warmer and more comforting, a feeling that all the sweaters on Earth couldn't hope to match. "Dipper, I-"
"Shh. No words. Only hugs now."
He'd stolen the words right out of her mouth, and for once she couldn't have been happier. They clung to each other for a long, quiet while. "Thanks, bro. I'm sorry for being such a butt."
"Same," he assured her. "I don't even remember what we were fighting about."
She pulled away from him, beaming like the sun. "Me neither, and I do not care. Let's just not do it again, okay?"
"Deal," he nodded. "Hey, Soos ordered pizza. I'm gonna go get some more. You want some?"
"Heck yeah! I'm hungry! Let me grab a new sweater first, though."
"All right. See you in the kitchen, slowpoke!" he teased, dashing out. A subsequent loud thump made Mabel tilt her head. "Who puts a wall in a house?!" he complained loudly.
"Pfffffffffffff!" she snorted, chasing the sound with a peal of laughter. "You dork!" She smiled at his fading footsteps. Left alone with the silence, she seized the chance to reflect. "You know what?" she decided, "Eff the sweaters. My brother is the best armor in the world."